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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NYU chapter.

In a breathless, haunting and rich historical mystery, New York Times bestselling author Monica Hesse speaks about the depths of trauma and the power of memory in her new novel “The Brightwood Code.”

Seven months ago, Edda was on the World War I front lines as one of two hundred “Hello Girls,” female switchboard operators employed by the US Army. She spent her nights memorizing secret connection codes to stay ahead of spying enemies, and her days connecting vital calls between platoons and bases and generals, all trying to survive—and win—a brutal war. Their lives were in Edda’s hands. One day, in fateful seconds, everything went wrong.

Now, Edda is back in Washington, DC working as an American Bell Telephone operator, the picture of respectability. But when her shift ends, Edda is barely hanging on, desperate to forget the circumstances that cut her time overseas short. When Edda receives a panicked phone call from someone who utters the fateful code word “Brightwood,” she has no choice but to confront her past. With precious few clues and help only from Theo, a young man bearing his own WWI scars, Edda races to uncover what secrets may have followed her across the ocean.

Monica Hesse is the New York Times bestselling author of “Girl in the Blue Coat,” “American Fire,” “The War Outside” and “They Went Left,” as well as the Pulitzer Prize finalist columnist at The Washington Post.She lives outside of Washington D.C. with her family. 

Based on the historical background of “The Brightwood Code,” I wanted to focus on asking questions about Hesse’s historical influences and how her identity as a journalist bleeds into her fictional work. 

What do you think the appeal is of World War I codebreaking girls in the YA genre?

The World Wars are a topic that everyone learns about in school, but most of us learn about them in a very particular, masculine way: the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Battle of the Bulge, the invasion of Normandy. If we hear about women at all, it’s usually about what they’re doing on the homefront—raising victory gardens or collecting tin cans. But there were thousands of women who were actually fighting the war, and it’s beyond time for their stories to be told.

What hidden history does “The Brightwood Code” shed light on for those who are unsure about reading your book? Anything you could say to entice them to read more?

“The Brightwood Code” is about the first American women to officially serve in the Army—as bilingual telephone operators who went to France to connect calls on the battlefield. They were literally facilitating the entire war, translating between English and French, while bombs exploded around them. It was dangerous and difficult, and frankly, even just an encyclopedia entry on the Hello Girls would be fascinating – but “The Brightwood Code” also happens to be a twisty mystery. My main character, Edda St. James, is a Hello Girl who has returned from France where she made a secret mistake that cost dozens of men their lives. And then one day she gets an anonymous phone call and realizes someone else knows what she’s done.

Why did you write this book as a YA novel and not adult fiction? How did this choice impact your book and the story you want to tell?

The easiest answer is that I wrote it as YA because the Hello Girls were young women. Most of them were in their early twenties; Edda is 18. The lines between YA and adult fiction are pretty blurry, in my opinion, because teenagers are able to think complex thoughts and take complex actions, just like adults. I hear from adult readers as often as I hear from teens. There’s a lot of crossover in the genre.

During your research, what history did you draw from that you found the most eye-opening? Any facts you’d like to share?

All of the war-related research was, of course, really engrossing. But I was actually most surprised by what I learned about the history of telephone operators around this time. In the 1910s, when this book takes place, women were typically allowed to participate in only a few careers that were seen as appropriately “feminine”: nurse, teacher, librarian. There was a whole branding effort by telephone companies to convince society that being a telephone operator was a respectable profession for girls—and they needed girls for a very banal reason: the equipment was delicate and required smaller fingers.

Every author has a piece of themselves embedded in their work. How would you say this concept applies to you with “The Brightwood Code?” 

For the past six years I’ve worked as a columnist at the Washington Post focusing on gender and impact on society, on women and how the world has treated them. I’ve heard hundreds of stories about assault, harassment, discrimination, sisterhood and triumph from women all around the country. All of those stories, in one way or another, made it into “The Brightwood Code.”

If you could describe your book as an aesthetic, what would it be and why?

Edwardian luxe meets WWI utilitarianism. Edda is very much like the fashion of the time: practical and hardened, but with hints of the soft, carefree girl she used to be before everything in her life was ruined.

Thank you Monica Hesse for answering my questions! I’ve read a few codebreaking girls books, and I always find it interesting to learn more about them. I’d also like to thank Sadie Trombetta from Little Brown of the Hachette Book Group for sending this interview opportunity and an ARC of “The Brightwood Code.”

Sabrina Blandon is an English major at NYU with a minor in creative writing. Avid reader herself and literary advocate, she has interviewed over 60 authors from New York Times bestselling ones to debut authors for Her Author Spotlight blog series for Her Campus NYU and Her Campus Hofstra. She loves exploring everything New York City has to offer and is a major foodie.